MIKE FIELD | SUN
The roundabout resembles an electric fountain.
BRADENTON BEACH – Bridge Street was awash with color, colorful characters and holiday spirit during Saturday night’s inaugural Lighting of Bridge Street tree lighting ceremony and community celebration. Presented by the Bridge Street Merchants and taking place in the vacant lot next to The Fish Hole miniature golf facility, the grassy area used for the weekly Bridge Street Market was transformed into a tropical winter wonderland.
The event featured live music by Kyle Shell and Ted Stevens and the Doo-Shots, and a wide variety of local vendors offering food, drink, folk art, photography, clothing, jewelry, Christmas gifts, massages and more.
Gayden Shell, owner of the nearby clothing store, The Lot, said business was good and noted that she was running out of her homemade Christmas ornaments. “I wish I could run home and make more,” she said, while standing in front of the small Airstream trailer she calls Buttercup.
At 6:30 p.m., Mayor Bill Shearon threw the switch that brought to life the 15- foot Douglas fir Christmas tree imported from North Carolina, and decorated by Deb Myers, owner of Bridge Street Interiors.
“It’s really great because this is the first lighting of the tree, and I’m proud to be a part of it,” Shearon said.
“It’s just amazing how Bridge Street has changed with the Bridge Street Merchants, all the activity and the new lights around the buildings. It’s really impressive.”
Bradenton Beach Commissioner Janie Robertson said, “We have the prettiest tree on the Island. They’re really on a good roll here with the lights, and it’s packed. I’m thrilled for the merchants because the more action you have, the more people it attracts.”
Myers’ tree design features 1,500 light bulbs, more than 800 ribbons and a four-foot angel perched on top.
“I’ve wanted to do this for 12 years, and we finally did it,” she said of collaborative efforts made by the Bridge Street business owners in lighting and decorating Bridge Street from the traffic circle to the east end of the street, including 31 illuminated palm trees and light poles that resemble candy canes.
Serving as a preview of things to come, the Gulf Drive traffic circle decorations were activated Tuesday evening.
“People were slowing down their cars to take pictures of it,” said Island Time Bar & Grill co-owner Bill Herlihy, who serves as vice-president of the Bridge Street Merchants group.
He credited BridgeWalk co-owner and general manager Angela Rodocker as being the impetus for this year’s elaborate holiday display.
“She’s been dreaming about this for years, and this is something she’s wanted to do for a long time,” Herlihy said of her vision for a uniform holiday presentation along Bridge Street.
“It’s an awesome idea and we’ve been raising money and planning this since last year,” Herlihy added.
The Bridge Street Merchants group spent $25,000 on decorations purchased from the Pompano-based Christmas Designers Inc. firm. Each business owner purchased his/her own lights, and the merchants group contributed money raised during previous events to help pay for the traffic circle and other decorations not specific to an individual business.
Donations from local business owners provided additional financial support, and Herlihy and his business partner John Hardesty donated $2,000 toward the purchase and decoration of the public Christmas tree that will remain on display throughout the holidays.
The holiday display is part of the continued efforts to promote the wide variety of dining, entertainment, shopping and recreational activities offered on Bridge Street.
“Boy, they really dressed the place up,” said Bradenton Beach resident Jim Peterfeso as he admired the new holiday look.
Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie, a Bradenton Beach resident, said, “The merchants along the street have really taken this and run with it. It’s obvious by the number of people you’re seeing on the street that this is a great thing for Bradenton Beach. I remember years ago when there was nothing out here but asphalt from one side to the other. With all the work this community has done and with the merchants we have on Bridge Street, this has become a great destination for people to come and enjoy a beach community as it should be.”
Melissa Enders helped plan and coordinate Saturday’s tree lighting ceremony. She also helped decorate the light poles. She said the event and the decorating process required a lot of hard work, but in the end, it was well worth it.
The holiday fun continues on Saturday Dec. 14, with Christmas on Bridge Street taking place from 3 to 10 p.m. and featuring a boat parade, holiday bazaar, raffles, snow, Santa, holiday music, special sales, food and a full bar.